Preachers to help remove stigma against HIV and AIDS

17 Feb
The AIDS international symbol statue in Sana’a (above) has been built to remind people that premarital sex is forbidden in Islam. However, AIDS and HIV are contracted by many other means other than sex. In both cases, society should not shun infected people, according to physicians and Muslim preachers.YT Photo by Malak ShaherMalak ShaherPublished:17-02-2011

For Ali Al-Mohamadi, a man in his mid-fifties, shaking hands with someone infected with HIV or AIDS is impossible. He believes that he may be infected if he does and eventually die with the stigma of having had sex with a prostitute.In a conservative country like Yemen, there is a stigma surrounding those with HIV or AIDS that they were infected by having sex with a prostitute. However, a large percentage of Yemen’s population does not know that there are other ways of being infected with the HIV virus.

In order to remove this stigma and spread awareness among the Yemeni people, the Progressio organization is conducting training for 50 preachers, both men and women. The preachers will spread awareness among people that HIV and AIDS are infections that should not be stigmatized and that those infected are normal people who have the right to live a decent and a good life.

The organization officially launched this project in Yemen on Feb. 13 in Sana’a, though they have been working towards this launch since April 2010. Progressio, which was formerly known as ICD, is a UK-based international non-governmental organization operating in 11 countries around the world.

“We will conduct a training course in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Population and the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance to remove the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS so that these people can live a normal life,” said Wondimo Guyassa, the organization’s HIV and AIDS coordinator in Sana’a.

In a video by Progressio, Sameer, a young man infected with HIV from the Hodeida governorate, said that he was losing hope in life as people around him refused to even talk to him.

“Life started to be darker when I was told I was infected with HIV. People here cannot live anymore with people like me, as they believe that they cannot live with HIV infected people as the disease may be contagious,” said Sameer in the video.

Much to his surprise, Sameer received a phone call from Progressio. Now Sameer is delivering lectures on how to conduct a normal life for newly HIV infected people. “Now, I can feel the beauty of life as I am part of the society,” he added.

The first HIV case in Yemen was diagnosed in 1987, according to Ministry of Health and Population reports. The number of HIV cases increased to 2,564 by the end of 2008. In the Hodeida governorate, where Sameer delivers his lectures, there are 169 cases of HIV. In Sana’a, there are 367 cases, 183 in Aden and 273 cases in Taiz.

According to Islamic preacher Sheikh Jabri Ibrahim, those infected with HIV and AIDS should be treated well by society, because if there is an ongoing stigma against them, they may hide their infection and this may be worse for society in terms of health.

“A few years ago I received a phone call from a woman who had been infected with HIV from her husband. He prevented her from going to hospital as the “secret” would be exposed and people would know that he is carrying the virus.”

Almost 80 percent of women get the virus from their husbands and a large number of those women are prevented from visiting a hospital because of the stigma of having HIV, according to Ibrahim, who also works in the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance.

Ibrahim said that even if a person has been infected with HIV via sexual intercourse, Islam urges people to forgive them and live with them.

In a country like Yemen, with an almost entirely Muslim population, preachers have a strong impact on people’s opinions, and they can play an important role in removing the stigma surrounding those infected with HIV and AIDS.

“HIV is not only a health problem in Yemen, it is also related to the society, as Yemenis reject infected people and ignore that these young people are still part of society and can be productive,” said Fawzya Gharama, UNAIDS representative in Yemen. “We should not neglect these people as the more people that hide their infection, the greater the increase of infected people in Yemen.”

The course is part of a project to reduce the number of HIV and AIDS infections, reduce cases of death from the infection, and remove the stigma of having the infection.

The project is funded by the European Union at a cost of EUR 405,500 (about YR 117 million) and will last until 2014. It will contribute to three non-government associations in Sana’a, Aden and Hodeida. The project directly targets 10,000 people and 50,000 indirectly.

Other than the preachers, the organization will also train hotel employees, fishermen, refugees, and employees in the health sector. It also targets young people from vulnerable demographics and most-at-risk population groups.


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